It’s the kind of thing that no one would ever miss until it went away.
No one ever notices how the clean the city streets of Lebanon really are – and few probably comprehend exactly what it takes to keep them that way. But Lebanon residents would notice if the city ceased the operation of its street sweeper program.
Without much fanfare and very much under the radar, the men and women of the Lebanon street sweeper program work very hard behind the scenes – while many of us sleep – to keep the city’s streets clean and free of trash. It’s a thankless job, but one that is essential to every citizen’s healthy lifestyle.
Robin Getz is the director of the Lebanon Public Works department, which oversees the operation of the city’s street sweepers.
“I would like to hope that everybody does appreciate it,” said Getz. “It’s taxpayers’ money going into this program. If they have a car and they’re proud of their car, they have to wash it and sweep it out. They’re paying for the streets to be swept and kept clean.
“How our city looks is a direct correlation to how the people are living in it,” she continued. “It comes down to pride. If they’re living with respect, we know it. If they’re living with disrespect, we know it. But we see a lot of respect out there.”
Certainly, keeping the streets of Lebanon clean is no small undertaking.
The city is home to nearly 27,000 residents, and thousands more use its complex system of streets and alleys on a daily basis. Although Lebanon covers an area of just nine square miles, there are 100 miles of roadways packed into that relatively tight quadrant.
“I think the overall goal of the program is to make the streets cleaner, make the environment cleaner, make the water cleaner,” said Getz. “It’s for the future generations. It’s not just for us. We have to be able to invest in our future.
“Think of it this way: If you would take a glass and put it under a storm drain, and when it filled with water, would you take a straw and drink from it? It’s hugely important to keep our streets clean. One goes hand-in-hand with the other.”
Keeping the streets of Lebanon clean is simply one of the tasks performed by the nine men and women who make up the city’s department of public works. It’s a task that takes about 40-man hours each week to perform, typically from 7 a.m. to noon on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 3 to 6 a.m. Thursdays and Fridays.
At one time, the city’s street sweeper program was limited to the months between March and November. But now it pretty much operates year-round, shut down only by the occasional winter storm or its remnants.
“We are required by DEP (the state Department of Environmental Protection) to control the debris that comes out of the sweepers,” said Getz. “We track how much trash and stone we’re sweeping. It’s weighed and hauled away, so we know how much is being disposed of in a year.
“If you went through it, you’d find stone and sediment and pebbles. There would be plastic bottles, cigarette butts, grass clippings, things that bounce off trucks. It’s just a plethora of things. You wouldn’t want to dig through there and see what is in there.”
If the members of the Lebanon public works department are warriors in the city’s war on filth, then the street sweeper is their most effective weapon.
The public works department owns, maintains and operates a pair of Elgin Street Sweepers. This year alone, the Zamboni-like machines have collected more than 517 tons of debris, dirt and garbage from Lebanon’s streets.
“You have to be coordinated to operate one,” said Getz. “A lot of the pieces run with extra joysticks. It’s a little more than getting behind the wheel and hitting the gas and brakes. There are some tight spots to get through and there’s a trick to turning them.
“Parked cars can be a huge problem,” she noted. “The signs don’t say, ‘You can’t park here because of street sweeping.’ They say, ‘No parking.’ We realize it’s difficult to move your car at strange hours of the day. Parking is at a premium even on a regular basis. But this is an important function for many reasons.”
The history of the city’s street sweepers, and the cleaning of Lebanon streets in general, is a bit murky. But the sweepers date back at least 30 years to the early 1990s.
Getz said she wasn’t exactly sure how Lebanon kept its streets clean before then.
“I can tell you that as kid, when I’d come into town, everyone would be sweeping in front of their stores,” said Getz. “It wasn’t uncommon to see the owners sweeping the sidewalks in front of their stores, and they worked together in the downtown area. They took pride in their things. They thought if it was clean, more people would come into their stores. We weren’t as disposable then, and there weren’t as many plastics. Times have changed. Lifestyles have changed.
“I think the street sweepers have made a positive change,” she added. “You hear so much negativity about the city. We have such a small staff, and to try and get done everything that needs getting done is a challenge. It’s nine people taking care of 100 miles of road. We’re always looking for ways to do it better and more efficiently.”
Cleanliness may indeed be next to godliness, but civic pride and tidiness enjoy a similar symbiotic relationship. The public works department and its street sweepers’ impact could be enhanced even further with just the slightest of public assistance.
“It’s not just the city of Lebanon’s responsibility,” said Getz. “It’s everyone’s responsibility, to take pride, to take ownership. When the street sweeper goes, you can tell. When the program is working and everyone is cooperating, I think it makes a huge difference.
“I think clean streets is how it should be,” she concluded. “I think it goes a long way. It’s a way of welcoming people. We all need to have pride, no matter where you live in the city. It’s the city. It makes me proud when I drive down the street and don’t see a bunch of garbage. That’s my backyard. The guys work hard, and they don’t take their jobs lightly.”
Having a better place to live is something we can all agree upon.
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